Is Cycling Too Dangerous?

Photo by Dru Marland.

I’ve been hit by cars twice cycling around Los Angeles. In the first accident a medical delivery driver made a left turn in front of me and I collided with the rear panel of his car. It was his fault but, initially, the driver’s employer tried to come after me for $900 worth of damage. Fortunately, their insurance company took my side in the matter and even replaced my bent fork. In the second accident, a motorist bumped me from the right. I’m not sure what happened, but I think he was merging out of a parking space and didn’t see me. Thankfully, they were minor collisions and I walked away from both without a scratch. But the cycling death of an acquaintance and the serious accidents of several friends has caused me to consider the risks of cycling, particularly in this less than bike friendly city.

An excellent blog post on the Guardian takes up the question of the costs and benefits of cycling. Author Peter Walker does the right thing, in my opinion, by seeking the opinion of public health experts. One, Dr. Harry Rutter, has this to say:

All activities carry a risk. For some reason there seems to be strong focus on the risk of injury associated with cycling. Clearly, when deaths do takes place that’s tragic, and we need to do all we can to avoid them. But I think there is a perception that cycling is much more dangerous than it really is.

This focus on the dangers of cycling is something to do with the visibility of them, and the attention it’s given. What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent, it doesn’t get noticed. What we’re talking about here is shifting the balance from that invisible danger of sitting still towards the positive health benefits of cycling.

Having volunteered on the board the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition for a few years, I’m well aware of how hard it is to make our cities more bike and pedestrian friendly. Another expert Walker talks to compared the struggle for safer cycling and walking infrastructure to efforts to curb smoking, noting that the anti-tobacco struggle took 60 years to get going.

The article concludes with a provocative conclusion, “There are two interventions that we know increase walking and cycling: living in the Netherlands and living in Denmark.”

So what do you readers think? Is cycling worth the risk?

Film Industry Blocks Bike Lanes, City of LA Doesn’t Care

Film industry trucks block bike lanes all the time here in Los Angeles, particularly along busy and fast moving Sunset Boulevard. Shutting down a bike lane on Sunset forces cyclists to merge into traffic that is sometimes going as fast as 50 miles an hour. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

Not much room between a fast moving bus and a film industry truck.

As to the legality of blocking a bike lane I don’t have a good answer, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter. Even if it is legal, that doesn’t make it right or safe. Is a film production worth a traumatic brain injury or a death?

Those of us who ride a bike in Los Angeles need your help. I want get the word out that:

  • Elected officials in the City of Los Angeles (in this case, Councilman Garcetti’s district) do not take the safety of cyclists and pedestrians seriously enough.
  • The film industry values profits over human lives.

Please Tweet, Facebook and link to this post even if you don’t live here. Appeals to the police department and elected officials in the past have done nothing to fix this problem. All we get are excuses and, once LAPD calls the film crew, hand made signs like the one below:

In Portland, Oregon cyclists get a detour:

To contact those responsible for this situation please email the following:

Film L.A. (the non-profit entity that coordinates and processes filming permits): [email protected]
Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti: contact form 

Like most cyclists here in LA, I also drive, walk and take public transportation so I understand this issue from all sides. We need equity in our transportation choices and we all need to stay safe.

UPDATE: Looks like the city has “fixed” the problem with slightly more official looking signs:

Too bad it’s still dangerous. I guess it’s going to take a death to fix this problem.

UPDATE 8/29/12: More coverage in The Eastsider and Streetsblog.

Picture Sundays: Bike Rack With Bee Smoker

Bike Snob NYC predicted back in 2010 that beekeeping would be the new fixed-gear. Don’t know where I found this picture (Facebook?) but it looks like bikes and bees are achieving a kind of synergy. I think this is a custom rack just for that handsome Dadant smoker, which like the design of the bicycle, has not changed much in a hundred years:

Dadant smoker in 1910.

Does this mean that Dadant will come out with a titanium smoker?

Barfing and Bikes: Why You Might Want Fenders

Barf Blog reports on an unusual study that took a look at why a an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness occured at the world’s largest bike race in Norway. In short, mud from cattle grazing areas splashed up onto the faces of participants.

Now I wouldn’t see the need to repeat this if I hadn’t met a cyclist here in Los Angeles that something similar happened to. In his case it was a case of giardia–his doctor theorized that the little buggers came up from the gutter via the wheel and landed on the top of his water bottle. He was very sick for months and lost a lot of weight.

Portlandians will laugh at our lack of fenders down in sunny Los Angeles. Perhaps this study might be enough to convince even roadies to get some. Well, only if there are $2,000 titanium fenders.

My Trip to Maker Faire


Getting ready for the earth oven workshop this weekend meant that I never got around to reporting on my trip to Maker Faire up in San Mateo on the 19th. I spoke in the low-tech “Homegrown” shed far away from the high powered tesla coil displays happening elsewhere. To add to the low tech/high tech irony, I was not able to use my PowerPoint and had to speak extemporaneously. This worked out for the better, as I was able to pull up a member of the audience to demonstrate her solar cooker–much more fun than showing pictures of solar cookers. And, after all, maybe it’s time we retire PowerPoint.

Some of the things I spotted at Maker Faire:

Long lines for the tiny house. I’ll review Lloyd Kahn’s awesome tiny house book later this week (he gave a talk just before me). Not sure what’s up with the white robe outfit in the foreground.

Also spotted: bamboo bikes!

Cornelia Hoskin, who curated the Homegrown Village part of Maker Faire, her husband and new bambino. Cornelia also runs homegrown.org.

Yes, there were paintings done by snails.

Solar popped popcorn.
A rep from Sweet Maria’s Coffee gave a great demo on all the ways you can roast your own coffee.

Expensive AK-47 toting garden gnomes.

And solar powered bikes. Not sure how this would work out on an LA street.

Someone in the Homegrown area was processing greywater in bulk containers planted with bamboo.

Overall I had a great time. It was a wee bit heavy on the robots and 3d printer gadgets but that’s to be expected. At least there were a few chickens present to balance out the proceedings. However, next year I’m coming with an overhead projector:

Al Pacino Closed My Bike Lane

It’s the classic urban cycling problem: when faced with the indignities of riding in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, do you make it all one big fun challenge or become what Bikesnob calls “the righteous cyclist?”  Righteous cyclists, according to Bikesnob, are “convinced that the very act of turning the pedals will actually restore acres and acres of rainforest, suck smog from the sky and refreeze the ice caps.” In short they are sometimes so obsessed with the issues surrounding cycling that they fail to enjoy actually, well, cycling.

So one rainy day earlier this month, heading down busy Sunset Boulevard, I came upon a film crew blocking the bike lane. This happens fairly often, especially at this section of Sunset. Your choice is to hop on the sidewalk, rarely a good idea in my opinion, or merge into fast moving traffic.

Normally, I take the stoic approach and treat a situation like this as a challenge, an opportunity to practice living in a real life version of Frogger, somewhat like Laird Hamilton might treat a particularly gnarly big wave. But on this dark and rainy morning, I thought I owed it to any cyclist pedaling behind me to try to do something about the situation. So, acting the role of the righteous cyclist, I rode up to the security guard and asked if the film permit specified a bike lane closure. He said he’d get the production manager for me.

The production manager introduced himself and I said hello. I again asked if the film permit allowed for the closure of the bike lane. He said no, that it allowed for the closure of the “curb lane” and that it was not his fault that the curb lane was too narrow to fit his trucks. He said that originally the trucks were supposed to be parked elsewhere but that the “talent didn’t want to cross the street.”* The “talent,” I later found out, was Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. He also said that film companies only need a permit to close the “special green bike lanes downtown” (not true).

I decided to keep my cool. What I really wanted to say at this point was something along the lines of “you Hollywood folks haven’t made a decent movie in around 30 years.” And, “I want to put Lars Von Trier in charge and force you all to go Dogma 95–then I’d have my friken’ bike lane back, not to mention decent movies.”

But I kept my cool. I thanked him for his precious Hollywood time and rode off, promising to take it up with the entity that issues the permits, Film LA.

First though, I called my friend Colin Bogart at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. He called the police who looked up the permit and found out that, indeed, this film company did not have a permit to block the bike lane.

Now, on my last trip to Portland during our book tour I snapped a picture of what happens in that city when a truck blocks the bike lane. Portlandians put up some cones to route cyclists around work vehicles:

Now here’s how we do it in Los Angeles. LAPD heads down to the location and finds out that they don’t have a permit to block the lane. Then, I’m guessing, Al Pacino comes out to sign some autographs and we get a “compromise”:

The bike lane was still closed, cyclists still had to merge into fast moving traffic, but we got a bunch of “bike lane closed” signs. Problem solved! Note the production manager on the right, none to happy to see me again. I resisted the urge to ask him if he thought he was John-Luc Fricken’ Godard.

So the Sunset Boulevard bike lane remained closed for three days all for yet another crappy Hollywood action movie. I may make my boycott permanent.

Should anyone in a position of power being reading this post, this closure was against the state’s traffic rules, “Section 6D.101(CA) Bicycle Considerations . . . E. Bicyclists shall not be led into direct conflicts with mainline traffic, work site vehicles, or equipment moving through or around the [work] zone.” 

——–

* Note from the Mrs.: Perhaps Messrs Pacino and Walken didn’t want to cross the street because they’ve heard that we had two tragic pedestrian fatalities in the immediate neighborhood last month. Both of those persons were simply attempting to cross the street. They died because our city streets could be mistaken for freeways.

Cargo Bike Roundup

First, thanks all, for your help with my cargo bike review that I’m writing for Urban Farm Magazine. For those of you not familiar with the new crop of cargo bikes here’s what I’m writing about:

Longtail Bikes

Xtracycle FreeRadical

The “longtail” revolution began with the invention of the Xtracycle “FreeRadical” back in 1998. The FreeRadical extends the back wheel and allows for the installation of two huge pannier bags and a seat. You provide the bike–I used a cheap 1980s era hardtail mountain bike. I’ve had my FreeRadical since 2006 and can’t say enough good things about it. I can easily pack four bags of groceriesin the generously sized bags and still easily glide through traffic in Los Angeles. And I’ve used it to go bike camping.

A few years ago Xtracycle teamed with Surley to make the “Big Dummy” a bike frame with a FreeRadical welded in. This reduces the shimmy under load that happens sometimes with a DIY FreeRadical/bike combo. Xtracycle also started producing their own bike/Free Radical combo called the Radish.

Yuba Mundo 21 Speed

Some other companies have since introduced products very similar to the Big Dummy and Radish. One that I really like is the Yuba Mundo. It’a a very sturdy bike with fenders and a two-legged kickstand.

Kona Ute

There’s also the Kona Ute.

Trek Transport

And, in this now crowded longtail market, the Trek Transport.


Bike Trucks

Cetma Cargo

If you can afford one, these are probably the best option for hauling kids. Your cargo or passengers have a lower center of gravity (important especially as those kids grow). Plus, with the passenger seat up front, you can keep an eye on them!

Other Options I’m not Reviewing

When I visited Copenhagen a few years ago I saw a lot of big cargo trikes like the Christiania Trike above. I’m not looking at these because I have my doubts about how practical they are in most US cities. We just don’t have the kind of bike infrastructure they have in Northern Europe. Plus, a lot of Root Simple readers wrote to tell me they don’t handle well on turns. Please correct me if you think I’m wrong. I’m also not considering trailers, because that would be another article.

While not cheap, all of these bikes are less spendy than a fancy carbon fiber racing bike and a lot more useful. My Xtracycle has allowed us to get by with just one car between me and Kelly. While I realize that cargo bikes aren’t practical for everyone, I suspect we’ll be seeing more of these beasts on the road soon.

And, a bit of a tangent here, but if you don’t know the story of Freetown Christiania, where the Christiania bike is made, it’s entertaining.

Seeking Opinions for a Cargo Bike Review

A Christiania trike

I’m reviewing a few cargo bikes for Urban Farm Magazine and I’m interested in hearing opinions from you, our dear readers. Leave a comment or send me an email. Let me know what cargo bike you have and what you think about it. What do you haul? Did you give up a car? Note: I’m not reviewing trailers, just cargo bikes.

I have an Xtracycle that I’ve used for years and am very happy with. But there’s a lot of new options out there.